Clair de Lune, visualized

Here’s a pretty neat visualization of Debussy’s best known work, Clair de Lune from the Suite Bergamasque. It was composed in 1903 and is quite famous.

Though I generally prefer string arrangements of this piece, this solo piano version is more faithful to the author’s original intent. Plus it’s easier to visualize and still sounds pretty cool. Enjoy.

This music and video was put together by Stephen Malinowski and his Music Animation Machine. You can find more performances on his YouTube page and more information on his website.

The Simpsons – Songs in the Key of Springfield

Released in the spring of 1997, Songs in the Key of Springfield is the first album to feature music that appeared on The Simpsons. The songs span from seasons 2 through 7, with the earliest song being Tony Bennett’s Capitol City from Danicin’ Homer and the latest being In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida sung by church-goers from Bart Sells His Soul.

(Though technically a version of the Itchy & Scratchy theme appeared in the first season episode Krusty Gets Busted, the recording included on the CD is from 2nd season’s Itchy & Scratchy & Marge. Similarly, the Treehouse of Horror theme used on the CD is from season 5, but a version of it was used in season 2.)

At nearly an hour long, the album distills some of the best and funniest music of the franchise’s history. Classics such as the Stonecutters’ song, the Monorail Song, the Oh, Streetcar! and Stop the Planet of the Apes musicals, and Tito Puente’s tale of uptempo retribution: SeƱor Burns never fail to get me singing along.

The highlights for me however, are the nine excellent renditions of the Simpsons’ theme sprinkled throughout the album like toppings on a donut. These versions take their inspiration from the topic of an episode and rework, sometimes radically, the show’s familiar exit music into various styles and tributes. My favorites, just for their sheer creativity, are the Big Band, Afro-Cuban and Australian versions, as well as the “Dragnet” homage. Big kudos to show composer Alf Clausen for those.

There’s not a bad song on this record (though Lisa’s ‘Round Springfield jazz eulogy to Bleeding Gums Murphy can be grating). While listen to Songs in the Key of Springfield, long-time fans will wax nostalgic for the show’s finest days, from when The Simpsons truely was the best thing on T.V. This music goes a long way to cementing that reputation.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Tunequest rating: 8.8

Surprisingly though, the album appears to be out of print and not available for digital download. Amazon offers the CD via third party sellers as well as bundled with Go Simpsonic (the sequel album). iTunes doesn’t offer it at all.

The Stonecutters’ Song, which explains all of history’s great mysteries:

Ratatat – LP3: Expansive and diverse sounds

In the past, I’ve taken issue with the tendency in some circles to lump Ratatat’s music in with that of the 8-bit crowd. I can understand the temptation, what with the band’s programmed, electronic beats, screaming guitars and ample keyboarding. But while their tones may sometimes sound similar to those produced by the Nintendo Entertainment System, their origins are much more organic.

So it surprised me to see that Ratatat appears to be overtly embracing the 8-bit sound while simultaneously diversifiying its non-electronic sound on its latest record, the straight-forwardly titled LP3. This record is a virtual homage to the keyboard. Indeed, the album cover features three of them. The effect is that just about any sound that can be produced by playing the keys finds its way onto this record somewhere. Indeed, one of the lead tracks, Mirando, mixes the bright and clean upper register of a grand piano with the laser beam-like sounds of an 8-bit system near its crescendo.

Don’t fret though, the duo haven’t thrown their guitars away. In fact, Ratatat seems to be well on their way to finding world peace and ultimate truth, the wailing guitar, Wyld Stallyns way. But even there, the stringed instruments shows some surprising variety. Again, the cacophonous Mirando mixes Ratatat’s thrashing riffs and slide guitars with the interjection of a banjo.

Other standout tracks include the disc’s opener, Shiller, which spends most of its time as a contemplative, baroque-style dirge before exploding into a high-flying spaced-out waltz. From there, LP3 hits overdrive with Falcon Jab further demonstrating the band’s new-found commitment to diversity. The guitars talk Peter Frampton style, the percussion is accented by shakers, and the keys of a harpsichord and baby grand trade expressions.

Mi Viejo has a distinct world-music flare, like a caravan moving up and down over the crests of sand dunes. Likewise, Mumtaz Khan shows a distinct Middle Eastern flavor, like what you might expect to find in a Turkish nightclub. Meanwhile Shempi, another highlight, is a wurlitzer-powered merry-go-round spinning through hyperspace. Gypsy Threat takes on the atmosphere of a Scooby Doo chase through an abandoned carnival.

Of the thirteen songs presented here, there’s only one that could arguably be referred to as a “typical” Ratatat song. With its mid-tempo beats and harpsichord melodies, Dura would almost feel at home as the backing track for one of Ratatat’s infamous remixes if it weren’t such a compelling track on its own.

With three albums under their belt, Ratatat has consistently shown themselves to be on the top of their game. But that game keeps expanding, with each successive album adding a new layers of complexity and textures to the band’s modus operandi. LP3 shows that whatever sights they set for themselves, they’ll reach them with gusto.


Note, the Amazon MP3 store offers a exclusive bonus track: Shempi [E*Rock Remix].


Mirando video:

Nirvana: In Bloom [unmixed]

Was doing some web-sleuthing this afternoon and ran across this video excerpt from the Classic Albums documentary series episode about Nirvana’s Nevermind. The short clip features producer Butch Vig demonstrating the individual mixing tracks from In Bloom, commenting on its various parts and pieces, from the awesome groove of the isolated drums and bass (which they got on the first take), to Dave’s harmonizing on the chorus.

I was actually quite surprised to learn about Dave’s singing contributions. I’ve been listening to In Bloom for 17 years now and I had no idea that Dave Grohl had performed any vocals for the song. I can clearly hear it now that its been pointed out, but for nearly two decades I thought it was just studio effects. Amazingly, after all this time, I’m still learning Nevermind’s tricks.

In Bloom has always been a favorite of mine, so I particularly enjoyed this fascinating look at its skeleton.

In Bloom deconstructed:

Here’s a Google Video of what appears to be the entire documentary. It starts with a similar deconstruction of Drain You, perhaps the most complex song on Nevermind (squeaky toys and five overlayed guitar tracks!), then continues with anecdotes by Dave, Krist and Butch recounting how the record was made.

hat tip to

Grunge flashback: alternate video for Nirvana’s In Bloom

In Bloom was the fourth and final single released from Nirvana’s Nevermind. The familiar and famous video debuted in 1992 featured the band parodying 1960’s style television musical performances (think the Ed Sullivan show). It’s a tounge-in-cheek humorous production showing a somewhat more playful side of a band whose image (and the social movement it tipified) was generally sullen and full of, you guessed it, angst.

But behold! the original video for the song. Shot in 1991, the so-called “Subpop” version is dripping with aspects of early 90s grunge zeitgeist, including the city of Seattle, flannel shirts, rockers with unkemped long hair, titled-camera angles and cheesey video effects.

Check it out, marvel at the cultural time capsule, and be glad it was scrapped in favor of a better concept.

Kelley Polar – I Need You to Hold On While the Sky Is Falling: A cool and special place that is good for thinking

Before the beginning of this year, I had barely heard of Kelley Polar or his music. Toward the end of ’07, I ran across one of his songs and checked out his debut album, Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens. I was hooked in short order. Color me exultant when I learned a new album would be coming out just as I was really getting into Polar’s music.

And that anticipation and excitement probably affected my initial reactions to Kelley Polar’s follow up record, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling, released earlier this month. Whereas I’ve only just begun listening to Polar’s music and at the most basic level had merely been wanting more, he’s had nearly three years to grow and change as an artist.

I must admit that I’ve been listening to this record for several weeks now and it’s taken a little longer than Gardens did to grow on me. Yes, the peculiar combination of classical, spacey electronics, disco and catchy pop gratuity that made the first album so compelling is present. I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a very good follow up record, but in its first few moments, it becomes clear that while it is largely the same, it is also different, closer and more intimate.

Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens struck me with its expansiveness, by how much room there seems to be between its sounds. Falling, for the most part, feels like its standing right next to you. It’s also much more vocal. Kelley Polar has said in interviews that he’s spent some time actually trying to sing on this one and for the most part it works, though there are a handful of moments where it could have been toned-down a notch.

Appropriately for an album premised on the sky falling, the music feels much more serious and less carefree than an album of interstellar love songs. Chrysanthemum is downright foreboding and grim, talking about people being killed in bed.

It’s not all dour though. Entropy Reigns (in the Celestial City) is the most straight-ahead pop in the entire repertoire, while Sea of Sine Waves continues that early-career Michael Jackson danceitude that hooked me the first time.

All in all, I Need You to Hold On while the Sky is Falling is a worthy and eminently listenable sophomore opus.

Chrysanthemum video:

eMusic interviews Kelley Polar and they discuss the numorous classical influences on Falling.

The Top 10 Best Songs by The Strokes

I’ve been kickin around some of The Strokes albums lately and after repeated listenings, here are the ten songs I’ve found to be their greatest (so far).

12:51 (from Room on Fire)

“The world is shutting out… for us.”

The upbeat melody and carefree feel make this one of the Strokes’ most addicting songs. And its tragically short running time just makes you want to play it again and again. 12:51 is pure pop ambrosia with a guitar effect that is sonic ecstasy. It reminds me of the way I felt listening to The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 in high school: cool, relaxed, free of responsibility and immune from consequences.

Bonus points for effective use of handclaps and Tron-inspired video.

What Ever Happened? (from Room on Fire)

“I come together in the middle of the night.”

This first song from the band’s sophomore release can either be read as a reaction to a bad break up or the casting off of expectations and presumptions (or possibly both). The song lacks a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, instead feeling like a dramatic bell curve bookended by the same plea. It opens with Jules almost begging to be left alone before breaking into a sensational mind-grabbing riff that leads straight to defiant crux before retreating back to where it started.

By the time its all done, you’ve found another song to play on repeat.

Barely Legal (from Is This It)

“You ain’t ever had nothing I wanted
But I want it all”

Musically and lyrically unadorned and straightforward, Barely Legal is the compellingest song from a compelling album. Composed of simple sardonic and candid one-liners, this song is a musical tirade, bitter and catchy. It’s one for the misanthrope in all of us.

Bonus points for effective use of guitar harmonics.

You Only Live Once (from First Impressions of Earth)

“Sit me down
Shut me up
I’ll calm down
And I’ll get along with you”

When Jules belts those lines, with a wailing guitar counterpoint, its a powerful moment. You Only Live Once launches the band’s third album and, from its sound, they are clearly growing up. Musically and emotionally complex, the song hits with an existential cynicism based on the notion that everything and everyone that has ever existed will eventually be gone. But even that depressing notion can’t stop the rock, so you might as well enjoy it, because you only live once.

Reptilia (from Room on Fire)

“The room is on fire as she’s fixing her hair”

This song takes feeling of bitterness, anger and servility to a whole new level. Then there’s a guitar breakdown. Then it repeats.

The Modern Age (from Is This It)

“Work hard and say it’s easy
Do it just to please me”

The song that started it all. All the dogged hype that is. Much of the negativity that exists toward the Strokes is really more a reaction to the ridiculous behavior of the musical press at the time leading up to the release of Is This It. Hell, even I avoided the band for years because of it. But as evidence that the attention was not all undeserved obsequiousness, this song one day got stuck in my head and the next thing I know, I’ve got it on my iPod, singing along with the windows down.

Someday (from Is This It)

“When we was young, man did we have fun
Always, always”

Someday is a perfect pick-me-up. If you’re feeling somewhat down, a little under the weather, or maybe just stuck in traffic, this song is guaranteed to improve your disposition, if only for about three minutes. The video makes being in a band look like so much fun that I want dust off my guitar and start my own again.

Razorblade (from First Impressions of Earth)

“Oh no, my feelings are more important than yours.”

Being one of the more traditional songs in the group’s repertoire doesn’t stop Razorblade from being any less catchy. Its conventionality probably contributes to its catchiness. The border-line beeping guitar effect is a new effect for the band and its emphasis in the mix really serves to pull you in.

Juicebox (from First Impressions of Earth)

“Why won’t you come over here
We’ve got a city to love”

The Strokes learn to grind on this first single from First Impressions of the Earth. Powered by a throbbing, revolving bassline and quick-tapping, tension-building ride on the cymbal, the song feels like a high-speed ride in a sports car changing gears as it whips through sharp turns and shoots down straightaways.

Juicebox rivals Reptilia as the band’s hardest rocking song (and perhaps their most overtly incensed).

The video features David Cross as a jerkass radio announcer who introduces the band as “Stroke.”

Last Night (from Is This It)

“In spaceships they won’t understand
And me I ain’t ever gonna understand”

A feel-good song with ironically downtrodden lyrics. Sure, it’s based largely on a (admittedly) lifted riff from Tom Petty’s American Girl, but it has its own kind of nonchalant independence. Though the song might be concerned with a disaffected relationship, the energy is such that it’s impossible not to tap your toes along with.

*Bonus Song: because ten just aren’t enough*

Red Light (from First Impressions of Earth)

“An entire generation that has nothing to say”

First Impressions’ closer is a syncopated head-bobbing melody that marches along merrily until an unexpected end that leaves your ears demanding more. The almost videogame-esque guitar treatment is a real treat here, yet the overwhelming sense of the song is trademark nihilism. The worldview here really is bleak, but as with most Strokes’ songs, you can’t help but feel a little cheerful as the invectives spew.

Then without a hint of coda, Red Light stops, leaving these words lingering: “Oh, the sky is not the limit and you’re never gonna guess what is…”

Infographics, nuclear weapons and Ratatat

While perusing the Internet this morning, like you do, I stumbled upon this very compelling video at YouTube. I was drawn to it initially because the song used for the soundtrack is Ratatat’s Gettysburg, and I’m a sucker for anything Ratatat related.

The video is a taut and thorough overview of the current state of nuclear weapons technology and proliferation in the world. It showcases all the nations that currently possess armed-and-ready weapons as well as the number of weapons that are operational (Russia has the most with 5830 active). It goes on to simulate a 150-kiloton detonation centered on the Empire State Building.

It effectlively crams a lot of information into a scant three minutes and the somewhat frantic beat of the music impressively augments the visuals. There is no advocatcy message however. The video is strictly informative and the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions.

The video was produced by GOODmagazine, which has a number of similarly styled videos on it’s own YouTube channel. GOODmagazine describes itself as a non-profit media outlet for “people who give a damn.”

You can pick up Gettysburg, here:
ratatat classics ratatat gettyburg at itunes

Radiohead – In Raindows: Ethos and ambiance

Via this 9rules note:



I haven’t placed an order for In Rainbows yet because I was waiting to find out the quality and format of the digital files. With this news I’m a little disappointed. Sure, 160kbps is quite *acceptable* but I consider 192kbps to be my minimum bitrate for MP3 (or did before I started encoding into AAC). Still, I assume the tracks are coming straight from the masters, so they’re bound to be decent. Even so, 160kbps seems like a strangely small format in this day in age.

All in all though, what this experience amounts to is a controlled (and profitable) “leak” for the band. Whether they succeed in up-selling the Discbox or traditional CD remains to be seen. Personally, I’m still debating whether there’s a Discbox with my name on it.

In any case, I’m sure the album will be fantastic. This is Radiohead we’re talking about.

Also strangely, the mp3s don’t come with any cover art included, though they otherwise have good ID3 tags (except for genre). Two images I’ve run across so far are this one, which looks like it could be from one of the vinyl sleeves:

in rainbows cover

And this one, which looks like it’s taken from the In Rainbows website:

in rainbows cover


Update 10/10: Having found out the format, I went ahead downloaded the album. I’m just glad I didn’t pre-pay a large amount for it. If I’m going to pay retail price for a record, I’m going to expect to be able to encode it at whatever quality I want. Having listened, the files sound fine in my ear buds and are certainly enjoyable enough for now, so I’m not going to make any further deal of it.

Albums by Radiohead always take a little while to grow on you. While they are never disappointing on the first listen, it takes some time before the gems are evident. I’m sure I won’t know quite what I think about In Rainbows for some time, but here are my first thoughts.

In Rainbows is perhaps the smallest departure in style in the band’s history, feeling like a continuation of the Hail to the Thief ethos, but with Amnesiac’s dour ambiance. Overall, the sense I get from the album is unambitious, but not staid. It is music of and for people who are weary. Of what, who knows? But true to the Radiohead mind-set, a detached alienation pervades the entire elaborated experience. To be sure, the music itself is as intricate as is to be expected, it just feels smaller and more straight-forward. There are no grand exclamations like Karma Police, mind-bending riffs like My Iron Lung or voyages into the unknown like Idioteque.

The other thing that strikes me right off the bat is that, for a rock band, this album doesn’t feature much in the way of rock. I don’t necessarily call that a bad thing. In fact, In Rainbows sounds so good as a whole that a massive rock song would feel totally out of place. It’s just unfortunate for me because Radiohead jams are some of my favorite things. I think they make up for it though with some down-right inspired percussion.

Initial song-by-song impressions:

15 Steps
A glitchy Bjork-like intro powers Thom Yorke’s trademark, though nearly unintelligible, falsetto in this up-tempo opener. The percussion here is the most interesting part, with the live drums providing body to the emphasized synth beats.

Dirty distorted riffs, straight-end drums and wailing electronics make me want to dance on top of a haunted house.

This slow proto-waltz is mesmerizing in its stripped down simplicity.

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Gloriously clean arpeggios and a galloping rhythm make this one an early contender as my favorite from the album.

All I Need
A somber piano ballad builds to brilliant crescendo.

Faust Arp
A cello accentuates more arpeggios, this time played by a Spanish guitar, on this mellow tune. It’s possibly the most tender song in all of Radiohead’s repertoire.

Rounds out an elegiac trio of songs. All I Need, Faust Arp and Reckoner feel like they could easily meander by, unnoticed in a dream or on a dark foggy night, if they weren’t so captivating.

House of Cards
Thom’s vocals echo through the emptiness on what could be the B-side to Knives Out (if Knives Out didn’t already have b-sides).

Jigsaw Falling Into Place
The tempo finally picks back up on what it the most direct pop song on the record. It could be Sit Down. Stand Up’s little brother.

A boy and his piano ponder the persistence of media and the cruel march of time. A bit of a downer to end the album on.

All in all a great album to listen to, though you might want to save for a soundtrack on a rainy day or you find yourself in too good of a mood.

Here’s a fan-vid featuring Weird Fishes/Arpeggi:

Radiohead – In Rainbows – Weird Fishes_Arpeggi